Published January 26, 2009
Earl Rynerson is an openly gay businessman with a history of curious legal problems and an apparent penchant for bondage pornography. And he thinks he's just the man to be your mayor.
The 56-year-old former lieutenant colonel in the Air Force is injecting some color and controversy into an otherwise quiet mayoral race in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Rynerson is running as a fiscal conservative, calling for pay cuts for highly compensated bureaucrats and pledging to rein in the city's swelling budget. But the beachside businessman has encountered some major fiscal problems of his own.
Rynerson has been sued numerous times since he moved to Fort Lauderdale 10 years ago, refusing to pay local businesses and credit card companies for services rendered -- and running up thousands of dollars in unpaid bills.
His legal wrangles, according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, include a kitchen remodeling he didn't like, a $1,350 fence he had built around his yard but didn't want to pay for, a $6,000 trip to Africa he said wasn't up to snuff, work on his car that didn't meet his standards and other disputes.
Rynerson, who owns a tile and stone store in the city, said he was often left unhappy but never gave up without a fight. "I am a person that if I don't receive services, then I make an issue out of it," he told the Sun-Sentinel. "I'm making my stand and I'll continue to press the issue."
Unpaid bills are only one of a number of potentially embarrassing issues that have come to light since Rynerson announced his candidacy.
The native Kentuckian distributed signs and literature trumpeting "Lt. Col. Earl Rynerson for mayor," but he hasn't been active duty for more than a decade -- and the signs put him in direct violation of military code. He apologized and said it was an aesthetic choice that he's since fixed; he says new signs will indicate his retired status.
Drawing more eyes is his apparent predilection for porn and his membership in an anonymous sex site. While not illegal, they are possible dark spots on the resume of man who is running a campaign to "polish up the city" of Fort Lauderdale.
Rynerson's credit card bill included at least 3 monthly payments to "Access 4M4M site," the billing name of a "men for men" sex site based in New York. "The m4m4sex website is for men looking to meet other men for sex," the Web site declares in plain English.
Another charge on his card provides a phone number for the International Masters Association, which "unites the Leather community online and [brings] Masters and slaves together," providing services for people "interested in Leather, Gear, Bondage, Rubber, Watersports and other fetishes."
Rynerson said the stories of his credit card purchases were greatly exaggerated, and compared the Web sites to YouTube and MySpace. "These are online services that a lot of people use," he told the Sun-Sentinel. "There's nothing pornographic ... nothing to that."
He neither confirmed nor denied that he used the sites, saying it was an issue of privacy. "Whether or not I subscribe or don't subscribe to racy Web sites I think it's a personal issue," he told the newspaper. "An individual's private life and personal life should be kept private and personal."
Rynerson could not be reached for comment, despite repeated calls and e-mails to him and to his campaign manager.
Rynerson, who was a city commissioner in San Francisco before he moved to Florida, has pumped more than $77,000 of his own money into his campaign for an office that pays just $41,000 a year.
Fort Lauderdale's mayor is essentially a city commissioner who chairs meetings but does not control the budget or city employees -- those duties belong to the city manager, whom Rynerson has said he will replace if elected.
It's a big move in a city with a relatively weak mayor, but Rynerson originally entered the race because of comments made by incumbent mayor Jim Naugle, who angered gay Floridians with his opposition to gay marriage and controversial 2007 call to "reduce homosexual sex in bathrooms."
A city with a large gay population -- and one that benefits greatly from gay tourism -- Fort Lauderdale might have voted the 6-term mayor out of office even if term limits had not been imposed on him.
Rynerson isn't the only candidate who was stirred by Naugle's comments to run for office. Dean Trantalis, a former city commissioner and local gay activist, has also thrown his hat in the ring.
Trantalis sees Rynerson as something of an interloper who has not been active in Fort Lauderdale politics before, even as a citizen.
"He's never even voted in city elections and now he wants to be mayor. He doesn't even have a record of any commitment or a record of any involvement in the city," he told FOXNews.com.
But Steve Rossi, a former FBI agent and prosecutor who is also running for mayor, said many of the accusations made against Rynerson are mere "innuendo," and emerged simply because Rynerson was running for public office.
"The bottom line is I think the guy is a decent guy, a good guy. He's got a lot of very good ideas," said Rossi, who praised Rynerson's command of numbers.
The Feb. 10 vote is a non-partisan primary, meaning Democrats and Republicans run together. If a candidate captures more than 50 percent of the votes, there will be no runoff.